PH-made COVID-19 test kits okayed by DOH

Published July 20, 2020, 4:40 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Francis “Kiko”  N. Pangilinan on Monday welcomed the announcement of the Department of Health (DOH) on the commercial use of the Philippine-made GenAmplify RT-PCR test kits after minority Senators questioned the delay in the use and mass production of these test kits that are cheaper than the imported ones.

“After almost six months, magagamit na sa wakas ang mga test kit na gawang Pinoy na mahigit kalahati ang presyo kumpara sa imported. Kung hindi pa natin kinalampag nung isang araw baka umabot pa ng taon bago gamitin,” he said. (The Pilipino-made test kits would finally be used. They are cheaper by one half the cost of imported ones. If we had not made a public outcry the other day, Philippine-made test kits could have not have the light of day in a year’s time.)

Pangilinan, nevertheless, wondered why imported test kits from China and Korea, which cost between ₱4,000 and ₱8,000, or more than double than the locally made ones, appeared to be favored than the Filipino test kits. 

“Ang sabi sa atin ng mga insiders sa DOH, walang kahirap-hirap ang mga imported test kits, samantalang pinahirapan talaga itong gawa ng Pinoy. Dapat sagutin ng pamunuan ng DOH kung bakit natagalan bago natin nagamit itong mas abot-kaya at de kalidad na test kits,’’ he said. (DOH insiders have told us that the importation of test kits is easy but barriers are thrown at the use of locally-made test kits. The DOH leadership should explain their delay in purchasing the locally-made test kits that are affordable and of top quality.)

‘’May kumikita ba at nakikinabang sa mas mahal na imported test kits?” he asked. (Did someone profit from the importation of test kits that have high price tags?)

In a recent joint statement, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Risa Hontiveros and Pangilinan himself urged the DOH to allow the use of the ₱1,320 RT-PCR test kits developed by the UP (University of the Philippines)-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) and funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“Malaki ang matitipid ng gobyerno sa paggamit sa test kits na gawa ng UP. Kaya dapat mas paigtingin na ngayon ng DOH ang testing, tracing, at treatment lalo na’t nangunguna tayo sa pinakamaraming active cases sa ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” Pangilinan said. (The government will save a lot from the use of UP-made test kits. We hope the DOH will now accelerate the pace of their testing, tracing and treatment since the Philippines leads other ASEAN members with having the highest number of COVID-19 active cases.)

The Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction or RT-PCR test of UP-NIH is said to be the gold standard in testing for COVID-19. It detects the actual presence of the SARS-COV-2, which causes COVID-19, unlike in rapid antibody test kits which can only detect the presence of antibodies in an individual and not the actual virus.

An interim report showed that the GenAmplify RT-PCR tests kits have up to 93.96 percent sensitivity and up to 98.04 percent specificity, at a confidence interval of 95 percent ranking among the world’s best and performing better than some of the imported kits.

In the interest of transparency, Pangilinan said the public needs to know actual and projected DOH expenses for the rapid and PCR test kits as part of its response to the pandemic. 

“How much more fund is allocated for procurement of more kits? In the budget for 2021, how much is the DOH proposing for such expense?” he asked. 

“As concerned as we are for the health of the Filipinos, we are also keenly looking after the well-being of our state coffers. Every peso of meaningful, honest, and transparent spending and saving will go a long way, especially amid an economic crisis,” he added.

Last Sunday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines reached 67,456, with 43,160 active cases, the highest number of active cases in the Southeast Asian region.